California FOIA procedures
Each state varies slightly in the procedures used to gain access to public documents. This article serves to describe specifically the steps used in California. To read the history and details of California’s sunshine laws please see California Public Records Act.
How to request public records in California
The act does not specify to whom records requests should be directed other than indicating that requests should be directed to the records custodian.
Use or purpose
The CPRA does not require a statement of purpose when requesting records. However, the act does restrict the use of criminal investigation records to only journalistic, scholarly, political or governmental purpose, or if they are sought for investigatory purposes by a licensed private investigator.
Who may request?
Anyone can request public documents in California. "[E]very person has a right to inspect any public record".
- California Government Code (CGC) Sec. 6252(c) defines "person" to include any natural person, corporation, partnership, limited liability company, firm or association.
- Foreign and domestic corporations are included in the CPRA's definition of "person."
- Unlike the situation in some states, a plaintiff who files suit against a public agency may utilize the CPRA to obtain documents for use in litigation to the same extent as any other person.
- See also: How much do public records cost?
The CPRA allows government agencies to charge "fees covering direct costs of duplication, or a statutory fee if applicable."
- If a specific statute defines a specific fee for a certain type of record, that takes precedence over CPRA.
- In 1994, a California court defined "direct costs" to include photocopying costs only.
- For electronic data, "direct cost" is the cost of producing "a copy of a record in an electronic format."
- When a person asks to inspect records, but not copy them, CPRA does not include a provision that allows government agencies to charge for search and retrieval time.
- In 1994, a California court disallowed a 25-cent per-page fee because the agency arrived at the fee by adding staff time into its calculations.
Government agencies may reduce or waive fees under the CPRA provision that allows agencies to develop ways to provide greater access than CPRA's minimum standards.
Extensive and burdensome searches
American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v. Deukmejian declared that the cost incurred by any department of separating exempted material from non-exempted material represents a detriment to the public interest of the smooth and efficient flow of government. This detriment can be weighted against the benefit to the public of the release of the records when considering whether to deny records requests based on statute 6255 of the California Public Records Act.
- See also: Request response times by state
The act allows a public body ten days to respond to records requests.